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After-School Programs Help Improve ELLs English Skills

After-school programs might be a solution for helping the growing number of English-language learners in the country practice their English outside the classroom, a policy brief from the Afterschool Alliance reports.

The number of ELLs in the U.S. has dramatically increased in the past decade-plus, leaving many schools unable to meet the needs of students whose limited English capabilities put them further behind academically, the brief, "English Language Learners: Becoming Fluent in Afterschool," says. In 2008, more than one in 10 public school students were classified as ELL, and in 2009, only 6 percent of ELLs in 4th grade tested proficient in reading, it reports.

After-school programs can provide an opportunity to provide direct language instruction through creative, enriching activities in less stressful and competitive environments than classroom instruction, where teachers are often focused on meeting standardized-testing benchmarks, according to the alliance. In addition, it says, some studies have already proved that ELLs who attend after-school programs are more likely to be reclassified as non-ELLs than those who did not attend after-school programs.

The brief also offers suggestions for policymakers on how to use extended-learning programs to help ELLs, which include improving STEM programming that targets ELLs, consolidating best practices for instructing ELLs, and using existing federal funding streams to provide increased professional development for instructors who teach ELLs. In addition to 21st Century Community Learning Centers federal funding, programs that work with ELL populations can also use Title III funding if after-school programs apply for the money in conjunction with a public school.

According to my colleague Mary Ann Zehr, some states are currently working on developing English-language-proficiency tests for the common-core academic standards for school day instruction, as part of federal grant competition. Some of those states are also planning on creating tools for teachers and administrators to help structure curriculum specifically for ELLs.

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